Pubdate: Sun, 09 Nov 2014
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Copyright: 2014 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: Dan Sweeney
Page: 1B


Maybe the second time's the charm.

After the defeat of Amendment 2, the medical marijuana initiative his 
money largely got on the ballot, Orlando attorney John Morgan is 
already looking toward 2016.

"We walked through a forest that we'd never been through before," 
Morgan said. "But on the walk through the forest, we've tied ribbons 
around trees. We have markings now. When we walk through this forest 
again, we won't be in the dark. We'll be walking by familiar places."

And that next trip through the forest will come sooner than you might think.

"The state Legislature may look at this and go 'we need to do 
something,' even though it could be watered down, but we need to do 
something," Morgan said. "I think what we have to do is we have to 
run parallel paths. We have to have already begun collecting 
signatures, if not have them already collected by the time we get to 
the session."

To get an amendment on the ballot, Morgan's group must get 683,149 
signatures, 8 percent of the 2012 presidential election turnout in Florida.

The next legislative session starts in March. To put pressure on 
legislators to pass a full-scale medical marijuana bill, Morgan wants 
to have the petition drive completed in the next four months.

Rather than face a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot in 
2016, the Republican-dominated state Legislature will pass a state 
law expanding medical marijuana far beyond the Charlotte's Web bill 
passed last session. That bill legalized only one strain of marijuana 
that is thought to help children with epilepsy.

"It's like saying we're legalizing guns but not selling bullets," 
Morgan said. "Charlotte's Web doesn't do [anything] for 99 percent of 
the people who need it. It's essential for children with epilepsy, 
but different versions and different strains of marijuana do 
different things for different people."

And if the Legislature doesn't act, voters could vote on medical 
marijuana in 2016- and maybe more.

"I may even have two amendments. I may have the medical marijuana 
amendment and a full legalization amendment, see what they do with 
that," Morgan said. "If I'm collecting signatures, I just have people 
sign one for each. I can collect them both at the same price."

But if the state Legislature doesn't act, and if Morgan gets medical 
marijuana back on the ballot, who's to say it can get to 60 percent in 2016?

"The more turnout there is in the state of Florida, the better chance 
this has," Morgan said. "And turnout in a presidential election will 
be gigantic."

Morgan will have to rely on that increased turnout among potential 
supporters of medical marijuana if a new amendment drive is to find 
success. He only needs a few thousand more votes.

Late Tuesday night, the percentage of voters who said yes to medical 
marijuana began slowly, agonizingly slowly, creeping upward from 56 
percent, where it had been stalled for at least half an hour. It 
passed 57 percent, and each new report of votes counted caused the 
number to tick just a few tenths of a percent higher - 57.1 became 
57.25 then 57.45. Then it hit 57.6, and there were no more votes to 
be counted. Out of the 5.8 million votes cast, it came down to about 
a hundred thousand.

"The people of Florida have spoken," said Drug Free America 
Foundation director Calvina Fay on election night. "By rejecting this 
misguided amendment, they chose to safeguard our communities and 
ensure a safer and more prosperous future."

The knives even came out among medical marijuana supporters.

"Next time medical marijuana is on the ballot, organizers should put 
patients and medical professionals at the forefront of the campaign 
rather than relying on a well-meaning but much less sympathetic 
political donor as the chief spokesperson," said Tom Angell, the 
chairman of Marijuana Majority.

Morgan is not just a political donor, but an admittedly partisan one. 
He contributes to Democratic causes, and his law firm employs 
unsuccessful Democratic governor candidate Charlie Crist.

To run the campaign, Morgan hired a Democratic political consultant, 
Ben Pollara.

The opposition group to Amendment 2, Drug Free Florida, was backed by 
Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the largest single donor to 
Republicans in 2012. Of the $6.3 million the opposition group Drug 
Free Florida raised, $5.5 million of it came from Adelson, and Drug 
Free Florida was managed by Republican-oriented lobbyists.

That back-and-forth between the two sides lent the campaign an air of 
partisanship rather than being a neutral debate over medical 
marijuana. But Morgan does not think his involvement was a liability 
to the cause the way Angell of the Marijuana Majority suggested.

"It was a problem and a help," Morgan said. "I agree with the guy 
from Marijuana Majority that patients should be out there in the 
forefront. But when we started, the one thing I did bring was 
attention. [People United] had been going on for years, but it only 
got attention when I got involved. ... I think [they're] right for 
the second go 'round, but not the first. And it won't happen on the 
second go 'round."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom